Yvan Muller got his 2008 World Touring Car Championship title offensive off to an ideal start by leading a SEAT 1-2 in the first round of the season at Curitiba.

Putting behind him the agony of missing out on the 2007 title in Macau just three months ago, Muller and team-mate Rickard Rydell resisted a late effort from BMW's Augusto Farfus to claim a good win around the Brazilian circuit.

Not that the result, which mirrored qualifying, came about easily, with Muller's victory having probably more to do with the staunch defence from both Rydell and Gabriele Tarquini in the latter stages of the race as the tyre wear woes, as predicted by Frenchman, came into effect.

Indeed, towards the end of the races, BMW comfortably had the faster machine, something that should put them in good stead for the sprint race.

Arguably, much of the race was won at the start for SEAT, the sheer strength of the TDI engine at the rolling start seeing all five Leons surge forward and swamp both Farfus and Jorg Muller as they threaded into the tight first corner chicane.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone made it through the first bend unscathed, most notably Tiago Monteiro, whose safe inside line was ruined when the front-right suspension was battered by a more leery rival. Almost destroying the front flank of his car as he made his way to the pit lane, Monteiro re-entered the race but would finish several laps down. Also getting caught up was Alex Zanardi, the Italian amongst several to enjoy a trip across the gravel trap. He would also pit to go a lap down.

Nonetheless, despite Monteiro's problems, SEAT still looked remarkably good out front, with Muller leading Rydell and Tarquini, while Jorg Muller and Farfus disputed fourth with the Chevrolets of Rob Huff and Nicola Larini.

Chevrolets race would take a dramatic turn for the worse though on lap three when all three of their cars were involved in incidents that would eventually lead to retirements. Firstly, Alain Menu's collision with Jordi Gene into the first corner saw him limp into retirement, only to be followed just seconds later by Larini tipping Huff into a spin at turn three.

Although Larini's defence from Gene arguably prompted his rather desperate move on the Brit, it was still enough to force the Italian into retirement on the spot. Huff continued for a few more laps before his rear suspension eventually gave up, leaving him crabbing towards the pit lane and out of the race.

With the ensuing safety car period closing the field up, Farfus - who managed to muscle his way past Muller just before the caution period - set about placing pressure on Tarquini in third.

As the race progressed though, there was a distinct disparity in performance around the circuit, the 320si far more accomplished in the faster bends, only for the grunt of Tarquini's diesel engine to prove significantly faster in a straight line. Indeed, while it became clear in the second half of the race that the Yokohama tyres on the top three Leons was beginning to wane, their pace down the long home straight was keeping Farfus and Muller at arms length.

Nonetheless, Farfus eventually made his move stick at turn five, the Brazilian's better drive out of the corner, coupled with a little bit of bumper kissing, allowing him to move alongside and sweep ahead into the next bend. Sensing his opportunity, Muller dived inside the Italian at the next bend and moved into fourth.

Quickly latching onto the back of Rydell, Farfus always looked like he had the faster machine, but the experience of the Swede was enough to ensure that he would not even get a realistic shot at second place.

With Rydell doing a sterling job behind, Muller was left to cruise to victory, the Frenchman's only concern coming at the restart when his team-mate made a brief attempt at getting through.

Behind the top three, Jorg Muller finished fourth after causing a few BMW hearts to pause when he made a lunge at Farfus on the final lap, while Andy Priaulx managed a superb recovery from 12th on the grid to take fifth at the chequered flag. It was a particularly impressive end to the race for the reigning champion after pouncing on the laboured Gene and Tarquini in the final two laps to record a fine result.

Tarquini finished sixth after plummeting down the order once overtaken by the two BMWs, the Italian just holding off team-mate Gene to at least ensure that three of the five diesel SEATs would score. Gene was set to make it four, but he was later docked 30 seconds for an incident during the race, dropping him from seventh to 12th.

That promoted initial race two pole sitter Felix Porteiro to seventh, with Tom Coronel securing the final point and, therefore, pole position in eighth.

Elsewhere, Pierre-Yves Corthals was another to feel the wrath of the officials when he had 30secs added to his finish time, dropping him from first to fifth in the class. His penalty promoted Olivier Tielemans to first, the Dutchman taking an Independent win on his debut with Wiechers-Sport, ahead of Stefano D'Aste and Franz Engstler.

To view the full race one results from Curitiba click here


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